If you’re black in America, you’re always faced with the same two political choices every four years: bad and worse. Approaching 2020, there’s no real discussion about the worse choice, Trump and his neo-fascist Republican Party. My advice to people of color and anti-racist white Americans for November 2020 is to leave them for the crows.
While the Republicans are clearly the worst, we got chance to see the bad option during the most recent Democratic presidential debate. I’m referring to Joe Biden’s incoherent, meandering answer to a question about the impact of slavery on today’s black community.
Here was the question: “As you stand here tonight, what responsibility do you think that Americans need to take to repair the legacy of slavery in our country?”
Part of the answer went something like this: “We bring social workers into homes of parents to help them deal with how to raise their children. It’s not that they don’t want to help, they don’t want — they don’t know quite what to do.”
So Joe Biden thinks the reason we haven’t overcome the legacy of slavery is black parents don’t know how to raise their children?
As contradictory as it may seem, the man who answered that question that way is currently leading in every poll for the Democratic nomination for president. He enjoys that substantial lead for one reason and one reason only: the overwhelming support among black Democratic voters, especially black Democratic voters over 50.
While the mainstream media generally overlooked Biden’s answer and, in fact gave his effort in the debate generally high marks, that wasn’t the response the younger members of the commentariat of color.
There was an extended exchange on Saturday, September 14 between Anand Giridharades (whose best seller “Winners Take All” is a book I highly recommend for anyone wishing for a more thoughtful, nuanced 21st century perspective on the American condition) and Joy Reid, host of MSNBC’s “AMJoy.” Reid also is an accomplished author with two recent books, one on Clinton’s impact on Democratic politics and her latest about how Trump conned white America.
The exchange was follow-up to Giridharades’ extended Twitter response to Biden’s answer about the legacy of slavery.
“There are two traditions of racism in American life – the flagrant and the insidious,” Giridharades wrote on Tweeter. “Racism with a hood and racism with a smile. The racism of David Duke and the racism of Thanksgiving Uncle. No sensible person thinks Joe Biden is a racist in the flagrant tradition. But he is steeped and anchored in and unable to educate himself out of the insidious tradition.”
Giridharades’ argument was essentially that Biden has disqualified himself for the Democratic nomination as a result of the implicit racism in the assumptions of his answer. Biden is morally compromised and unable draw a clear distinction between himself and the overt white supremacist who is the president of the United States. In addition, Biden can’t energize and mobilize younger African-American voters and their progressive allies in the numbers required to beat Trump.
Reid offered an equally insightful counterpoint when she observed that middle-aged black voters like Biden but they’re not in love with him. She feels there support for Biden is a function, based upon their lived experience, of their lack of confidence in white America’s willingness to do the right thing on issues of racial justice. More than this younger generation realizes, they know justice requires way more than what is currently being considered.
There is nothing about the American past that Joe Biden or Donald Trump imagines that anybody black should want to excuse or reprise. Biden is not the best white America can do, according to this bitter voice of experience, but he’s probably the best white America is going to do.
You always have two options in these situations: play to your strengths or to your adversary’s weaknesses. It’s like an offensive coordinator having to decide what play to call on third down with three yards to go. On third and three, you can run or pass – either can get you three yards – but you can’t do both. You have to choose. And you won’t know if you were right until the play is over. In the case of Biden, both Giridharades and Reid may be right, but they can’t both be right simultaneously
There is one thing worse than losing: losing with a strategy that you don’t believe in. I’m going to cast my lot with the progressive young people of this country. If they’re willing to put their future on the line, how can an old man who has already lived most of his life not stand with them?
Mike Jones is a former senior staffer in St. Louis city and county government and current member of the Missouri State Board of Education and The St. Louis American editorial board. In 2016 and 2017, he was awarded Best Serious Columnist for all of the state’s large weeklies by the Missouri Press Association, and in 2018 he was awarded Best Serious Columnist in the nation by the National Newspapers Association.